Nestled on the northern coast of Colombia, where the depth of history meets the upbeat rhythm of modern city life, lies Cartagena de Indias – one of the three most coveted ports in the West Indies, and therefore, the perfect backdrop for swashbuckling pirate adventures, greed-inspired political raids, countless conquests and hard-fought wars of independence from the 16th to the 18th centuries.
Today, its proximity to the Caribbean seas makes it one of the safest, most appealing destinations in South America, with three neighbourhoods casting their own invisible spell on visitors from far and wide. San Pedro dazzles the spiritually inclined and those with a passion for Spanish colonial architecture with edifices such as the Cathedral, as well as plethora of graceful Andalusian-styled palaces. Getsemaní is a fountain of life, peppered with art galleries, buzzing clubs and renowned restaurants. Finally, there is San Diego, home to a prestigious university, stylish boutiques, the quaint San Diego Square (with its jutting terrace balustrades) and the historic Las Bóvedas (housing a wealth of dungeons where 18th-century prisoners were forced to endure the torture of soaking in water for hours on end during high tide).
San Diego is also home to Casa San Agustín, a luxury boutique hotel comprising three colonial homes which have been refurbished and redecorated with painstaking attention to detail. Visitors can choose from 24 refined rooms and six spacious suites, all of which showcase authentic Colombian style through features such as four-poster beds and hand-made furniture pieces. Features such as private terraces with plunge pools or Jacuzzis overlooking a garden graced by everlasting flowers in bloom, meanwhile, afford the five-star luxury demanded by the most discerning travelers.
Casa San Agustín is also home to one of the most highly rated restaurants in Colombia: Alma, serving inspired coastal Colombian cuisine, the vision of Executive Chef Cristhian Rusinque, whose experiences in far-off lands like Australasia, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia have provided him with all the ingredients he needs to whip up familiar yet original dishes that have attracted the savviest of diners from all around the world.
If the whole family is travelling together, a savvy travel agent will probably suggest booking the Prestige Suite (with two guest rooms, spacious balconies, and a plethora of mod cons) or the Suite Virrey, also boasting two guest rooms and sumptuous amenities such as Frette linens and cushiony soft robes and slippers. Both suites overlook the streets of the Old Town, whose unstoppable rhythm lures tourists into the essence of what makes this city tick: the spirit of its people.
There are countless things to do in Cartagena, especially for the culturally conscious family. We suggest a list of Top Five adventures to enjoy:
- Go Shopping at Las Bovedas: They used to be dungeons but now they make the perfect setting for a host of quaint Colombian souvenir shops, perfect for sourcing everything from award-winning Colombian coffee varieties to colourful Arhuacas bags (made from hand-spun virgin wool), vueltiao cane hats and authentic wayuu handicrafts.
- Visit La Popa Convent: Perched high on a hill, at 148 metres above sea level, the 16th-century La Popa Convent has a rich and complex history. The site of animal sacrifices by devil worshippers, it is premiere tourist attraction, largely owing to the perfection of its architectural proportions and the stunning panoramic views it offers over the entire city.
- Visit the San Pedro Claver Cathedral: San Pedro was a Jesuit priest who dedicated much of his life to converting and baptizing African slaves. A glass coffin housing his bones can be found beneath the main altar, considered one the most beautiful in all of Colombia.
- Catch a Show at Teatro Heredia: Constructed in 1911 to commemorate the 100thanniversary of Cartagena’s independence, this stunning theatre boasts Portuguese wood balconies, Italian marble statues and a hand-painted ceiling by Colombian maestro, Enrique Grau. In January, the theatre hosts the Classical Music Festival of Cartagena, a fine excuse to enjoy the beauty of this visually breath-taking building.
- Feel the Adrenalin Rise at the Palace of Inquisition: This 18th-century torture chamber houses all the dungeons and torture chambers you could imagine, and is home to a museum of equipment used to torture so-called ‘heretics’ during the Spanish Inquisition.
If you belong to a culturally savvy family, and deep immersion into a rich historical tradition appeals, check out luxury tour operator, Ultimate Jet Vacations’ new family offers, which will make this exciting holiday possible at a very reasonable price.